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US: FCC to Rule Comcast
Can't Block Web Videos

Decision Could Set Precedent
In Debate Over Internet Traffic

by AMY SCHATZWall Street Journal
July 28th, 2008

Washington -- Federal regulators are set to announce this week that Comcast
Corp. wrongly slowed some of its customers' Internet traffic, in a victory for consumer groups and high-tech companies that have fought to keep Web traffic free from interference.

The Federal Communications Commission will rule that the cable giant violated federal policy by deliberately preventing some customers from sharing videos online via file-sharing services like BitTorrent, agency officials said. The company has acknowledged it slowed some traffic, but said it was necessary to prevent a few heavy users from overburdening its network.

The decision, expected Friday, would set an important precedent in the continuing fight about how far phone and cable companies can go to make more money from their Internet networks. Cable and phone companies are experimenting with new ways to deal with people who use a lot of bandwidth, including "Internet metering" -- charging customers for the amount they use.

The FCC decision is likely to be challenged in court; if upheld, it would affirm the agency's right to play online cop and make sure Internet providers don't interfere with online traffic. FCC officials have grown more concerned about the issue as consumers watch more online videos, which take up growing chunks of bandwidth.

On Friday, a majority of the five FCC commissioners voted in favor of finding that Comcast violated federal policy by slowing some Internet traffic. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in a statement that he believes it's important that all consumers have "unfettered access to the Internet."

The FCC will require Comcast to stop blocking or slowing traffic and better disclose its practices to customers. Comcast has already done most of what the agency is asking, and won't face a fine. But the FCC's investigation has had a chilling effect on other providers' efforts to find ways to make more money from their networks, such as providing faster service to commercial partners.

The FCC's action stems from a complaint filed last November that accused Comcast of blocking subscribers from using some file-sharing services.

Comcast said it has to do something about the small percentage of subscribers who swap large files on peer-to-peer networks because they use a disproportionate amount of bandwidth. Comcast said it didn't violate federal rules and argued that the FCC doesn't have the authority to enforce a set of "net neutrality" principles it passed in 2005.

"We continue to assert that our network-management practices were reasonable, wholly consistent with industry practices and that we did not block access to Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services," said Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman.

Write to Amy Schatz at

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